gavin newsom
California lawmakers on Monday passed a bill that will change portions of the state elections code in an effort to benefit Gov. Gavin Newsom in the all-but-certain recall election to be held later this year.

Newsom quickly signed the measure, SB 152, which lets state officials bypass one of the steps of certifying the recall election.

Under the previous law, the Department of Finance was to issue a cost estimate, after which the Joint Legislative Budget Committee had 30 days to review and comment on the costs. Both the review by finance and the review by lawmakers were steps put into place less than four years ago by Democratic lawmakers.

SB 152 lets the Secretary of State's office certify the recall before the joint committee has had 30 days to review the estimate, so long as the Legislature has appropriated the funds it determines "reasonably necessary" to conduct the recall election.

Earlier this month, counties sent the state cost estimates totaling $215 million, which lawmakers have agreed to cover.

The changes could speed up the timeline for a Newsom recall. Once the Secretary of State's office certifies the recall, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is required to schedule the election in no less than 60 days and no more than 80 days. Some Democrats have suggested an earlier recall date will benefit the governor, who is currently riding a wave of approval as California reopens and the state coffers are overflowing with an $80 billion surplus.

The bill lawmakers passed Monday is in contrast to the measures passed four years ago, when Democrats adjusted the recall rules to help State Sen. Josh Newman's odds of surviving a recall. At that time in 2017, lawmakers were looking to extend the timeline of certifying the recall election for the ballot, and added the review period that they're now trying to bypass.

Republicans in the Assembly took issue with the legislation on Monday, saying Democrats were changing the playing field.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, who has teased at a run in the recall himself, said Newman, to his credit, declined to be involved in the changes to the process in 2017.

"That bare minimum level of decency, exhibited by Senator Josh Newman is way too much to ask of Governor Gavin Newsom," Kiley told Assembly members. "We have the unprecedented circumstance where Gov. Gavin Newsom, with the stroke of a pen, will be changing California law in order to try to beat back his own recall."

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, defended the legislation, saying he believes recall petitioners want the election held quickly.

"(The petitioners) would have liked this to happen yesterday," Ting said. "This bill ensures the election happens as quickly as possible, which, my belief is, that what's the recall was about, but also ensuring that as many Californians who want to participate can participate in this election."

Lawmakers also allocated $35 million to the Secretary of State's office to conduct the recall election. During a Senate budget committee hearing on Monday, some Republicans voiced concerns about the office receiving those recall funds, after it contracted with a "Team Biden" firm for voter outreach in the 2020 election.

"What kind of assurances can we give to the public that contracts won't go to firms with political ties?" said Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

Tim Weber, with the Department of Finance, suggested senators direct those concerns to the Secretary of State's office.

Senators Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, brought up similar concerns at a meeting of the full body Monday evening.

According to a breakdown of costs the Secretary of State's office shared with the Department of Finance last week, the most costly portion of the recall election will be more than $17 million for communications and the Office of Cybersecurity. The Secretary of State also plans to spend $9.2 million on printing and mailing voter guides.

Republicans senators said they aren't confident that that the bid process for contracts related to the recall will be fair.

"To me, this is like deja vu all over again," Wilk said. "People can't trust our democracy if they can't trust the electoral process, and all we're looking for is transparency so there's accountability so we can have some trust."

Lara Korte covers California politics for The Sacramento Bee. Before joining The Bee, she reported on Texas higher education for the Austin American-Statesman. She is a graduate of the University of Kansas.